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   Chapter 1 Brownie Oxford and the Ashland Affair

Brownie Oxford and the Ashland Affair: Brownie Bk1 By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 16312

Updated: 2018-03-07 14:18


Chapter 1

Sigh.

Exactly how do I get myself into these situations? Sadly, a question I've been asking myself repeatedly for years. 'Remember what Swift said, Nie, ' I told myself, leaving behind the deeper quest for meaning. 'Stall and admit nothing.'

With Swift's oft repeated advice as back-up, I took a deep breath and looked around. We were in an old cemetery that at a guess had seen its last burial sometime before the Civil War. At least none of the headstones I could read had dates later than the 1850s. The weeds grew thick around the half tumbled stones, proving there were few visitors. Many of them had fallen flat, the grass rising around the horizontal stones as though they were small islands in the middle of the ocean; a limestone archipelago. I didn't know how long it had taken us to get here as I had been drugged and locked in the trunk for most of the ride.

When they took me out of the trunk, I could see the city skyline as a distant haze. I just hoped it was still my skyline and not that of another city. I didn't have time to look for manmade landmarks in the dark. After leaving the cars on the mostly vanished road, we spent a good half hour stumbling through grass on a path I couldn't see, before crossing the rusted iron fence surrounding the cemetery. Normally I would have complained about hiking through long grass in heels, but the exertion helped push the last of the drug induced fuzz away. The blister I could feel on my heel provided sharp bursts of pain to keep me focused and deny fear a chance to make me panic.

Luckily, when they took me, they hadn't bothered to take my charm bracelet. After my last kidnapping, although he and his cohorts refused to call it that, Swift gave me a small GPS tracker designed as a charm for my bracelet. For once I was actually wearing it and I pressed the sides of the small charm as we walked, holding them in until I felt the charm hum briefly. I let it go, knowing the hum would send a distress signal to Swift to let him know I was in trouble.

I hadn't planned on needing to use the emergency notification when I put on the bracelet. When dressing, I thought the silver charm bracelet went well with my new earrings. If it helped Swift find me, the fashion police could declare it a victory in coordinating accessories. The GPS was active and sending out its electronic signal, now I just had to give Swift time to get to me. The large men with guns looked disinclined to wait for his arrival. I doubted asking nicely would help.

Most of the men were big and burly. The smallest of them in fact had a neck the size of my waist. It seemed terribly unfair that the big men also had big guns. The fact that they wore the big guns casually gave me pause. They wore them as though they were accustomed to spending long periods with the strap on their shoulders. So long in fact that they could almost forget the guns were there. The last time I had seen men wear guns that casually; I was with Swift in a place I was told to forget existed.

I still had nightmares about it.

The three men in the center of the group were more normal sized and less well armed. If you saw them on the street, you would not immediately think 'Thug' as you would with the others. Snake was more their description. They looked like the brokers who would funnel your money into an untraceable off shore account and convince you that you had made a sound investment, all without losing a wink of sleep or letting their thousand-watt smile dim.

At the moment everyone around me was shadow and silver. Flashlights had been turned off once we reached the cemetery. The low light from the moon had turned the world into a black and white movie set. I half expected to see Bella Lugosi shamble from the shadows at the tree line.

The only light came from the full moon riding high in the sky. It seemed appropriate. These sorts of things always seemed to happen, to me anyway, on the full moon nights. Generations of superstitions were hard to break. I caught the flash of teeth as the man in the center, the one wearing the most expensive watch, smiled at me. It was a salesmen's grin; all teeth, no humor.

"You may begin any time you are ready, Ms. Oxford." He told me. Not knowing any of their names, I was somewhat at a disadvantage. I took a deep breath in an effort to steady my nerves. The scent of freshly turned earth filled my senses. I thought it strange, considering the age of the cemetery. The smell remained; newly turned earth in old burial ground. I glanced around again. Luckily, I didn't see a freshly disinterred corpse. Aside from not adding to my nightmares, it gave me a little more wiggle room for stalling tactics.

"I'm afraid I am a bit confused, " I said. "Why exactly are we here?"

"We already explained that to you Ms. Oxford." Mr. Salesman said. One of the goons took a step forward. He didn't even bother to shift his large gun from his shoulder and into his arms. Apparently, he didn't think he would need the gun to deal with little old me. Sadly, I could see his point. There was a reason the social workers who found me named me Brownie.

"Yes, I got that part. You want me to raise the dead. That came through loud and clear. It's just the rest I'm a little hazy on." I told him. Mr. Salesman raised his hand, made a sharp shooing motion and the goon stepped back into the half circle with his friends. I somehow doubted the beginning of a square dance was eminent.

"What is it you are hazy on Ms. Oxford?" he asked. He was still smiling, confident he could get his way. With so many factors on his side, I would be confident too if I were him. I tried to hold my fear and anger inside and speak calmly, as though this were some sort of rational business discussion. After all, I didn't have as much on my side. Just a slim hope Swift would come looking for me. Stall and admit nothing were the limits of my current plan for survival.

"Well, you seem to believe I am this all powerful, high mucky-muck, woo-woo necromancer person." I began.

"Which you are." He replied.

"I'm not saying I am, " I continued ignoring his confidence. "But if I were, then it seems to me there would be a couple of problems. You want me to make a zombie. Who do you want me to turn into a zombie?"

"Any body from one of the graves will do for a start. We need to see that you are capable before giving you specifics." He told me, still smiling and nodding as if asking a woman in a dress and heels to raise a zombie was an everyday thing for him.

Seriously, a zombie.

Either he was a complete wack-a-do, or he knew something I didn't, possibly both. With my luck, I was guessing both. I shook my head a little as though trying to clear it.

"Great, well, according to the movies, some zombies when you raise them go all crazy and start snacking on anyone nearby. That would be essentially us, as everyone else seems to be far, far away."

I paused and took a deep breath. I saw a couple of the goons exchange glances. Apparently, they weren't happy with the thought of becoming zombie snacks and weren't entirely trusting of the men in suits to stop the chow down. I was certain Swift would be pleased with my adding dissention in the ranks to the stall and admit nothing list of tactics. That gave me three things in my arsenal. Go me.

"That would only be if you lost control, Ms. Oxford. I have done my research." He assured me.

"True, " I said, wondering exactly where he had done his research. Perhaps there was a library I knew nothing about. Maybe he would give me the address if I asked nicely. I could always use more informative bedtime reading material.

He had a bit more conviction than I felt comfortable with, his certainty raising the little hairs on the back of my neck. Usually when people discuss zombie attacks it isn't with the utter belief that the person you were talking to could actually make a zombie rise from some handy-dandy grave. Even stoners tended to think of it a theoretical exercise. It was only after seeing the shambling dead that people began to be

lieve, and even then all other rational options had to be explored before belief set in.

Mr. Salesman believed.

I took a deep breath and tried to smother my fear. "It could, in theory, be a killer if I lost control, but if I were controlling a killer zombie, why would I not turn it on the people forcing me to raise it in the first place?" I asked. "It isn't like my plans tonight included getting hit with a tranq and shoved into a trunk. I could tell the zombie to go after you."

My plans had actually involved a very attractive guy named Dave who I had met at the bank. I had even bought pretty new underwear for the occasion. Not that I was planning on letting him see it, I just wanted to feel pretty all the way down to my skin. Dressing up was a rare occurrence for me and I wanted to make the most of it. At the moment, I was grateful for the night's concealing shadows. If my favorite little black dress was ruined, I didn't want to know.

There was a shuffling of the feet and a shifting of weight among the goons. They were nervous. Progress, or so I hoped.

"Because we would shoot you, " he told me, still grinning.

Okay, not so good a plan. Shooting would be bad. I didn't know much about weapons; in fact I tried very hard not to know too much about weapons, but the guns they had looked as though they could shoot a lot of bullets in a very short period of time. I did not want the guns aimed at me. Hanging over the men's shoulders like bizarre fashion accessories suited me just fine.

"Shooting me would most definitely cause me to lose control, " I said quickly, trying not to panic. "Thus setting a killer zombie to lay waste among the available human population, which would be you, " I said indicating the group with a sweep of my hand. I saw one of the men flinch at the movement. I decided not to move much on the off chance they were nervous enough to shoot me before I could raise the theoretical killer zombie. I didn't want to get shot because of expansive hand gestures. The obituary would be mortifying.

"Why would you possibly want that?" I continued. "What use is a killer zombie running amuck in the middle of nowhere? There aren't any terrified citizens to run screaming through the streets. There aren't even any streets."

"It would not be a killer zombie, " he said. Even though he was still smiling his toothy grin, the words were harsh and clipped. He did not like my deviation from his set schedule of events. As he looked like someone who routinely got his way with a minimum of fuss, this had to be a new experience for him. Perhaps it would be broadening.

"Oh, " I said nodding and thinking fast. "So you are hoping for the other kind of zombie? The helpless slave kind that tamely does your bidding?" I nodded as though deep in thought, my mind whirling to pull together any trivia facts I could recall. "I see, that is a whole bunch of different movie scenarios."

If I made it through this I swore I would watch more zombie films so I could add more stalling information to my arsenal. I only had a few more Hollywood zombie facts left to use. I hoped Swift was on his way. I could feel cold sweat on my body and was surprised my wildly thumping heart couldn't be heard in the quiet cemetery. At the moment though, I didn't have time to worry about my heart. All of my energy was concentrated on keeping my voice calm and reasonable. My heart would have to fend for itself.

"But wouldn't the mind-controlled zombie then be under my control?" I mused out loud as though it were a philosophical debate. I hope they couldn't smell my fear. If Swift didn't hurry, I had the feeling I might die of fright before they actually got a chance to shoot me. "That would put us back into killer zombie territory, since I could then order it to defend me." I frowned as though concerned.

"And then there is the act of raising the zombie in the first place, " I told them. "Don't you need a chicken or a goat or something else to sacrifice in order to even raise a zombie in the first place? They always have them in the movies, unless they make zombies from some sort of disease. Of course, if you had a disease to create zombies, you wouldn't need a necromancer."

I made a show of slowly looking around, keeping my movements steady with no sudden sweeps. I saw several of the men swallow hard, their eyes widening in realization. One of them started tracing the strap of his gun with his fingers as though it were a talisman against the night. Who knows, maybe boogey men didn't like guns any more than I did. Or maybe at the moment, I was the boogey man, er woman.

"I don't see anything like that around here, " I said, "No chickens or goats, just you and your men."

Mr. Salesman's grin winked out like a dead light bulb as he closed his mouth. I could almost see the fear on the men around me, rising up in sickly waves. Apparently none of them had contemplated the sacrificial aspect of zombie raising when agreeing to take the job. I think that aspect even bypassed Mr. Salesman's thought processes. It made me feel better. Mr. Salesman may believe and more than likely had seen a zombie or two, but he had never actually seen a zombie being raised. He just knew it could be done. Still, Swift would not be happy. I think zombies were on his top ten list of things the general public shouldn't know could be done.

The men with guns started glancing towards one particular man with a gun. He nodded and stepped over to confer with the suits. I took a small step backwards. Perhaps I could make it to the tree line before they started shooting. I was small, wearing a black dress and could hide somewhere until they gave up looking.

As I had no more stalling tactics down, I thought it might be my only option. I wondered if I should try running in the heels or ditch them and run barefoot through the woods. Neither option sounded appealing. I took another step backwards deciding to leave the heels on. Again, no one noticed.

I heard a slight rustling sound coming from the trees and looked around, seeing nothing. All of the men with guns were concentrating on the low conversation between their leader and the men with the money. I hoped the rustling signified the arrival of Swift and whoever he brought as back-up rather than some nocturnal predator of the wild.

If I ended up being eaten by a mountain lion, I would not be pleased.

I took another cautious step back. All at once, the world exploded in blurs of motion. Before I could make out any details, I was tackled and pinned to the ground by someone much larger than me. I gave a small yip of surprise and saw stars as my head hit the edge of a fallen tombstone hidden in the grass. I struggled a bit under the weight, my mind still thinking mountain lion, but I quickly realized that the weight was human. It wasn't one of the goons as they had all been in front of me, and this man had tackled me from behind.

He smelled of Irish Spring soap.

I stopped struggling and he relaxed a little, letting me know he was just there as my human shield. It felt very odd to be lying in damp grass fully dressed with a strange man wearing bulky protective gear lying on top of me. It was weirdly intimate, yet strangely disconnected all at the same time. But as his presence signaled the arrival of the good guys, I was willing to put up with a little weird.

I heard the sounds of a scuffle and heard muffled yelling, but I couldn't see anything from under my soap scented human shield. The world quieted and the man on top of me slowly shifted his weight back. He pushed to his feet and offered me a hand to help me rise from the ground. The cool dew from the grass had been absorbed by my little black dress and one of my heels had been knocked off.

"Thanks, " I told him, still feeling a little shaky. The fear I had pushed to the bottom of my belly was beginning to rise and make me nauseous. It didn't help that the world was a little wobbly around the edges from my head's connection to the fallen tombstone. I turned to my rescuer. "Have you seen my shoe?"

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